With Southeast Asia’s recent explosion of startups, entrepreneurship, venture capitalism and its reputation for spawning unicorn companies, inspiration, innovation, and influence is rife in the area.

There are many success stories. Below, we look at those innovators with the greatest impact, notable for taking the world by storm in their respective fields.  

Anthony Tan, Grab

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Anthony Tan, Group CEO and co-founder of Grab, Southeast Asia’s leading mobile technology company, could well have ridden on the coat-tails of his family’s “multinational auto sales-and-assembly empire.”  Yet, he chose to forge his own way with the mobile taxi app that he developed for a school contest.

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Graduating from Harvard Business School in 2011, Tan joined forces with classmate Tan Hooi Ling to launch the application in their home city of Kuala Lumpur, bonding over a shared vision of making taxis safer in Southeast Asia.

Launched in 2012, under the name of MyTeksi, Grab has grown exponentially from its original roots as a ride-hailing platform. It started with a booking service for taxis, and now offers 11 different modes of transportation and delivery services (via GrabFood), boasting the region’s largest land transportation fleet. Grab operates in 191 cities, across eight countries, and, as of March this year, has acquired control of Uber’s Southeast Asian operations. Under Tan’s leadership, the company is deemed to be the market leader of online-to-offline (O2O) consumer apps, offering not only a diverse range of transportation, but also the popular mobile payments platform, GrabPay.

Tan’s been named in Malaysia’s 50 Richest in 2018, and Grab is acknowledged as the region’s first unicorn. With 14 funding rounds totaling over $6 billion USD, two company acquisitions, a joint venture with Credit Saison to provide lending services, and Grab’s most recent quest to reposition itself as an “everyday app” through the expansion of O2O services, Tan doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.

Peng T. Ong, Monk’s Hill Ventures

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Entrepreneur turned Venture Capitalist (VC), Peng has a penchant for projects that make a difference in the world, especially as we approach ‘economic singularity’ or simply put, where “artificial intelligence will be making a greater number of significant decisions than humans.” He is co-founder and Managing Partner of Monk’s Hill Ventures, a technology venture fund based in Southeast Asia.

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His smooth transition into the world of VCs came about after [co]founding, growing, and selling three successful companies across three different sectors: Match.com (the first online dating service), Interwoven, and Encentuate, each attaining unicorn status. Most recently, Peng has accepted a partner position at GSR Ventures (a leading VC in China), acquiring the knowledge, skills, and experience to become an “entrepreneur investing in entrepreneurs.”

“If you want to have an impact building companies, it’s important that you do some yourself to understand how it’s done, but to have impact across a broader population, you don’t just do one company,” Peng explains.  

Having served on many boards, including SingTel and YY.com, Peng further broadened his perspective and expertise. He is highly respected for his predictions on investment trends, as well as for sharing his vast knowledge by mentoring up-and-coming as well as established entrepreneurs with his own blog.  

He speaks of his “life projects” as being a large part of his focus—one of which has inspired him to establish a not-for-profit organisation, Solve Education!, with a vision aligned with the education revolution. Still in its experimental stage and involving a few thousand children so far, he has introduced a gaming platform that is educational, engaging and fun.  

Nadiem Makarim, Go-Jek


Nadiem Makarim is CEO and one of three co-founders of Go-Jek, a call-centre based motorcycle service that started in 2010 with 20 motorbike drivers and the vision to assist the struggling ojek (motorbike taxi) industry in Jakarta, Indonesia.

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By 2015, Go-Jek launched its ride-hailing online app that today specialises in not only ride-hailing, but logistics and digital payments, too. It provides an array of on-demand services, operating in 50 Indonesian cities as well as Vietnam and Thailand, and has Singapore in its sights. With over 1 million drivers, Go-Jek was Indonesia’s first unicorn company, and is the only company in Southeast Asia that made it into the Fortune’s 2017 list of “50 Companies that Changed the World.”

Go-Jek is a technology company with a “social mission to improve the welfare and livelihood of workers in various informal sectors” across Indonesia. This is in line with Makarin’s values and vision for positive social impact and to motivate other entrepreneurs. Prior to Go-Jek, Makarin started an initiative named Young Leaders for Indonesia, a program to prepare third-year university students to enter the working world.

Robbie Antonio, Revolution Precrafted

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The founder and president of Antonio Development in New York, Managing Director of his family’s business, Century Properties (founded by his father in 1986), and most recently, founder and CEO of Revolution Precrafted, Robbie Antonio has his sights set on the world — literally.

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Revolution Precrafted, a Manila based modular building company established in 2015, already has multi-million and multi-billion dollar developments under their belt in Dubai, Myanmar, and the Caribbean, with further major innovative developments underway in The Philippines. He focuses on developing countries with the goal to design and build 85 properties in as many countries by 2020.

Antonio purposefully chose the wording “precrafted” and not “prefabricated” to reflect the exceptional design quality from his collaboration with 70 world-leading, prize-winning architects, artists, and designers (ie. revolutionaries). With worldwide recognition as an avid art collector, his visionary approach is centric to his deals and developments. He states that “he started with the strongest names in the industry so that others will be encouraged to be a revolutionary” and with plans to add 19 more, it would seem that this approach has definitely paid off.

He describes himself as “deal-hungry,” yet fair. And instead of competing with other developers, he partners with them, building relationships with a win-win focus. This high-achiever, with unicorn status (the first in The Philippines) already feathering his cap is “well on his way in his race to outperform himself.”